Posted December 15, 2006
— Charlie Post
What follows is not a definitive analysis of the 2006 elections. Instead, I want to spark a discussion on several questions:
- Why did the Democrats win a majority of the House and Senate?
- What can we expect from Congress and the Administration in terms of the war and economic/labor policies?
- What impact will the Democrats’ victory have on the anti-war (and labor and other social) movement(s)?
- What impact will the 2006 election results have on the prospects for an independent Presidential candidacy in 2008? lections?
Why did the Democrats Win?
Wide spread revulsion with the Bush administration and the Republicans over a variety of questions—corruption (Jack Abramoff) and sexual duplicity (Congressional Page scandal) contributed to the Democrats’ victory. However, the war in Iraq was the central issue in the 2006 election—and the Democrats’ were able to capture the votes of the majority of US voters who today oppose the war. Approximately 56% of those who voted disapproved of the war in Iraq—and 80% of these voters supported the Democratic candidates for the House and Senate. Of the 55% of voters who wanted the US to withdraw all or some of the troops, 74% of voted Democratic.
Part of the Democrats’ success was due to their ability to increase their vote among significant elements of their base—racial/national minorities and working class voters—compared with 2004. Democratic votes among Latinos jumped from 58% to 69% and among Asians from 56% to 62%, while their share of African-American votes grew slightly, from 88% to 89%. The Democrats also made gains among working class voters. Among households earning less than $50,000 annually, the Democrats increased their vote from 54% to 60%, and among union households from 59% to 64%, the highest support among union households since before 1972.
However, the key to the Democrats victory was a shift among independent voters in predominantly white, suburban House districts previously held by Republicans. While the Republicans continue to win the support of most white voters, their majority of white voters fell from 58% in 2004 to 51% in 2006. The Democrats made significant gains among higher income groups. In 2004, the Democrats won 43% of the voters with annual household incomes over $50,000 ; in 2006 their total increased to 49%. Their gains were greatest in the highest income groups, jumping from 41% to 47% among households earning $100,000-200,000; and from 35% to 45% among households with incomes over $200,000 annually. The greatest increase in voter participation came from these households. Overall turn out increased slightly, from 39.7% in 2002 (the last “off-year” Congressional election) to 40.4% in 2006. However, the percentage of households earning $50,000 or more (which represent only 46.7% of all households in the US) grew from 55% to 60% of the electorate. Put simply, the defection of a significant minority of white, suburban, middle class professionals and managers from the Republicans allowed the Democrats to win a majority in both houses of Congress.
While the elections registered widespread opposition to the war in Iraq among the working and middle classes, the patterns of campaign contributions do not indicate a clear shift in capitalist support from the Republicans to the Democrats. Overall, total “business” campaign contributions (which have averaged 75% of all campaign contributions since 2000) dropped 16.5% from 2002 to 2006. The percentages of “business” contributions going to the two parties have remained relatively stable over the past four elections. The Republicans continue to get the majority of capitalist funding—57% in 2000, 57% in 2002, 55% in 2004 and 57% in 2006.
Trotsky once claimed that elections in capitalist societies give a “distorted image” of the relationship of forces in a society. From this perspective, the 2006 elections was a “distorted referendum” on the war in Iraq. The results are clear—a majority of Americans, both working class and middle class, oppose the war and want the US out of Iraq sooner than later. This anti-war majority, however, remains at the level of sentiment, not action and organization. The anti-war movement in the US has yet to organize and mobilize this majority.
What Can We Expect from a Democratic Congress?
Within hours of the election, the capitalist class made clear what it expected from the incoming Congress. The two most important capitalist lobbying organizations, the Business Roundtable and the US Chamber of Commerce have called for “bi-partisanship”—cooperation between the Democratic Congress and Republican White House to continue the neo-liberal consensus. Harold McGraw, the Chair of The Business Roundtable, which represents the largest transnational corporations, delivered a speech “The Real World is Neither Red nor Blue” immediately after the election. McGraw called on Congress and the President to expedite the new “free trade” agreements with Vietnam and Peru, to increase government funding of scientific-technical research, and to implement fiscal policies that preserve tax breaks for business but allow the President a “line-item” veto to restrain spending.
The Democrats have signaled their intention to maintain the neo-liberal consensus. Leading House and Senate Democrats have made clear their commitment to the business agenda on taxes, trade and immigration. Charles Rangel, the African-American representative from Harlem who will probably chair the Ways and Means Committee, has pledged to work with Republicans to maintain tax cuts on investment income and large estates, and to reduce the alternative minimum tax’ which penalizes households earning over $50,000. Barney Frank from Boston, the first openly gay Congressperson, will chair the Financial Services Committee. He pledged to support neo-liberal “free trade” at home and abroad, proclaiming the Democrats “liberal internationalists.” The Democratic majority in Congress will probably be crucial to pushing through the Bush administration’s proposals on immigration—including tighter border security (the wall on the Mexican border), a guest-worker program and new procedures for the “legalization” of undocumented workers.
The leaderships of both the AFL-CIO and CTW have great hopes for the new Democratic Congress. However, other than securing an increase in the minimum wage—one which would not begin to compensate for inflation over the past thirty five years—few of labor’s proposals are likely to be enacted. The dominance of the neo-liberal Democratic Leadership Council (DLC) among Congressional Democrats bodes poorly for legislation increasing fines for firing workers engaged in organizing drives, and the defeat of new “free trade” agreements.
What about the war? In all likelihood, the Democratic victory will put “optional” imperialist adventures—in particular an attack on Iran—on hold for the foreseeable future. However, the new Congress will do nothing of substance to end the war in Iraq. The majority of Democrats in the House and Senate are committed to “staying the course” in Iraq—maintaining the occupation and US dominance over Iraq and the entire Middle East. The strength of the pro-war Democrats was demonstrated when they defeated Pelosi’s choice for House Majority leader, John Murtha of Pennsylvania—author of the redeployment plan.
At best, the Democrats will introduce resolutions supporting either redeployment or phased withdrawal of US troops from Iraq. Carl Levin, the Democratic Senator from Michigan made clear that the Democrats would limit themselves to resolutions, and would not attempt to reduce funding for the occupation. More importantly, neither redeployment nor phased withdrawal will end the US war in Iraq.
Redeployment (the Murtha Plan) calls for US forces to pull out of Baghdad and other hot spots and reposition themselves in safer regions of Iraq and in Kuwait. The US would continue to train and supply Iraqi government troops, while launching aerial bombing of Iraqi cities. If the Iraqi army and US and UK bombing cannot crush the resistance to the US imposed government, US forces will be over the horizon ready to redeploy at a moments notice.
Phased withdrawal (the Korb-Katulis Plan) of US forces—again to Kuwait and US bases near Iraq—calls for a gradual reduction in US forces in Iraq over a period of 18-24 months. The troops withdrawn from Iraq, however, would be redeployed to Afghanistan—doubling US troop presence there—and to a US carrier battle group in the Persian Gulf.
Neither the Murtha nor Korb-Katulis plan will end the war. Both involve a de facto escalation of the war—increased bombings in Iraq, more US troops in Afghanistan and no guarantees that the US military presence in Iraq will not increase if the government deems it necessary. Put simply, the Democratic Congress will not end the war and occupation.
Impact on the Anti-War Movement
In the immediate aftermath of the election, the leadership of United for Peace and Justice (UfPJ) was sharply divided. While almost all members of their steering committee agreed on a call for a demonstration in Washington, DC on January 27, many wanted to dilute the politics of the demonstration to that acceptable to the Democrats—redeployment/phased withdrawal or some vague opposition to the “Bush Agenda.” In a close vote, UfPJ reaffirmed its commitment to the demand “Bring the Troops Home Now”—immediate withdrawal of all US forces from Iraq.
Despite this victory for “out now”, we should expect growing pressure among anti-war activists (and other social movement activists, especially in the labor movement) to tailor the politics of the anti-war movement to that of the Congressional Democrats in the next two years. As in past election cycles since the US invasion and occupation began in 2003, UfPJ and the mainstream of the anti-war movement downplayed the call for “Bring All the Troops Home Now” in favor of opposition to the “Bush Agenda”—and covert and overt support to the Democrats’ calls for redeployment or phased withdrawal. We should also expect tremendous pressure to curtail anti-war activism—especially national demonstrations—in the months preceding the 2008 election, as more and more activists see the Democrats poised to retake the White House.
Impact on Independent Politics and the Greens
The Greens did best in local and state elections in 2006. They succeeded in electing thirty five local officials, including the new Mayor of Richmond, California. In Illinois and Maine, Green candidates for Governor won 9% and 11% respectively. The Greens also did quite well in elections for “Shadow” seats in the House and Senate from Washington, DC, winning 14.7% and 12.7%
The Greens generally did not do as well in the House and Senate races they contested in 2006. Of the fourteen Senatorial candidates, the most successful candidate was Rae Vogeler, who won 2% of the vote in Wisconsin. Of the forty three House candidates, the most successful candidates were Tom Kelly in Colorado with 21% of the vote, and Steve Warner in Maryland, who won 16.5%. Most of the Green candidates for the Senate and House won less than 2% of the vote—even when they faced off openly pro-war, neo-liberal Democrats whose election was almost guaranteed. In New York, Howie Hawkins won only 1.2% of the vote against the incumbent Hilary Clinton.
The Green’s mixed results in 2006 combined with the strong possibility of a Democratic victory in the 2008 Presidential election will strengthen those in the Greens who want to “push the Democrats to the left” rather than build an independent electoral expression of the social movements. In 2004, these forces were able to nominate David Cobb, who openly embraced the “safe-states” strategy of only campaigning in states where the Democrats had a clear majority, over Ralph Nader and Peter Camejo. In the face of what will likely be overwhelming support among anti-war, labor and other social movements to back whomever the Democrats nominate in 2008, Greens committed to building an independent electoral expression of the social movements will face an uphill battle in 2008.
How should socialists and other radicals—especially those committed to building an anti-war movement that struggles for the immediate withdrawal of US forces from Iraq; and are partisans of independent politics—react to the 2006 elections. The Democratic victory in 2006 made clear that a majority of Americans oppose the war. However, their victory will make rebuilding a vibrant movement demanding “Bring the Troops Home Now” much more difficult in the short-run. The Democrats’ victory will also reduce the audience for independent political action.
Anti-war activists need to focus on rebuilding the movement from the bottom up—maintaining and expanding counter-recruitment organizing, labor anti-war activism, and support for anti-war GIs, veterans and military families. We should also help build national and regional demonstrations against the war—starting with the January 27th demonstration in Washington. Within the movement, we need to be arguing that the movement needs to maintain its organizational and political independence. While most of the activists we work with will probably vote (and many will actively campaign) for the Democrats in 2008, we need to find ways to continue working with them building local and national anti-war activity for the immediate withdrawal of US forces from Iraq.
Green Party activists and other advocates of independent political action should encourage the Greens to run an independent candidate in 2008. However, we should be clear that such a campaign will have limited traction—it is not going to attract the support and enthusiasm among activists that Nader did in 2000. Instead, we should support such a candidate as a way to continue the long-term dialogue with other activists about the need for independent politics.
For an analysis of the central role of race in U.S. elections and politics, see an article on the 2004 elections from War Times co-founder Bob Wing at http://www.counterpunch.org/wing12032004.html
Charlie Post is a member of Solidarity.